‘The Quiet Man’
Starring: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Victor McLaglen and Mildred Natwick
Running time: 129 minutes
Rating: Not rated
As everyone has donned green and celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, I went looking for a good Irish-themed movie to commemorate the holiday.
I settled on the 1952 film “The Quiet Man” starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, who is best remembered for playing Doris Walker in “Miracle on 34th Street.” It also was the second film to pair Wayne and O’Hara, who was born in Ireland. The acting duo went on to star opposite each other in three more films.
This film is a romantic comedy and follows Sean Thornton (Wayne), a retired American boxer, as he returns to his birthplace in Ireland.
While he is a famous boxer in the rest of the world, in the small town of Inisfree, Thornton is known only as the small child who emigrated to America many years prior. Inisfree is a quiet town full of hardworking, heavy-drinking and conservative Irishmen. And after initial suspicion, the locals quickly accept Thornton as one of their own.
Everyone except Will “Red” Danaher (Victor McLaglen), who resents Thornton for outbidding him on a house up for auction. Further complicating matters, Thornton strikes a fancy for Mary Kate Danaher (O’Hara), Red’s sister.
While it is normal for an American woman to make her own decision on whom to date, in the conservative Irish-Catholic town, a woman must get permission from her male caretaker before she can court a man.
The first half of “The Quiet Man” consists of Thornton’s pursuit of Mary Kate. The entire town, including Mary Kate herself, sides with Thornton, but Red remains obstinate. After some comedic back-and-forth, several town members trick Red into consenting to the courtship with the promise of his marriage to the widow Sarah Tillane (Mildred Natwick).
Eventually Thornton and Mary Kate get married, but that is only the beginning of their troubles. Furious that Tillane had no intention of courting him, Red refuses to surrender Mary Kate’s dowry. This isn’t a concern to Thornton, who has plenty of money from his boxing days, but Mary Kate’s biggest dream is to be a propertied woman.
At this point the entire atmosphere of the movie shifts. Instead of being happily married, Mary Kate pushes Thornton to fight Red for her dowry. Thornton, who hides the fact that he was a boxer, vowed years ago he would never fight again after accidentally killing an opponent in the ring. While he continually tries to remediate the situation, Mary Kate and the rest of the town deride him as a coward and shameful man.
Despite the heavy tone of the final hour, “The Quiet Man” still manages to be funny. The back-and-forth between Thornton and Mary Kate is often ludicrous, though it portrays Mary Kate — unfairly in my opinion — as a frivolous and fickle woman. However, it does resolve in the best way possible, which seems to be a defining characteristic of romantic comedies.
I have few complaints about this movie, but some things bothered me. Women in this film seem to be treated rather badly. At one point an elderly lady gives Thornton a stick and tells him to beat Mary Kate with it for her disobedience.
However, “The Quiet Man” was released more than 60 years ago, when social norms were different. But Thornton consistently strives to be good to his wife. Additionally, Mary Kate is a strong character in her own way. I am inclined to forgive this movie for its flaws.
If you are looking for a movie to go along with the St. Patrick’s Day festivities, “The Quiet Man” is a great choice. Its charming atmosphere, humor and romance make it a great movie to watch with your significant other. You can find “The Quiet Man” on Amazon Instant Video for $2.99-$12.99 or on Netflix.
Andrew Akers is a columnist for The Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.